Not long ago, Elon Musk announced his intention to buy Twitter. However, after presenting his offer of $44 billion, he backed out: the deal is on hold because Musk wants to reduce the price due to the enormous number of bots on Twitter. Analyses now show that Musk’s estimate of the bot share could be based on a bias: He himself seems to have a disproportionate amount of contact with bot accounts on the platform.
An outlier among outliers?
Darius Kazemi, a programmer at the non-profit organization Meedan, which fights misinformation, calls Musk an “outlier among outliers” regarding his bot contact on Twitter. For example, he says, the Tesla CEO not only has a much higher bot rate among his followers than the average Twitter profile, but also than the average celebrity profile on Twitter. Kazemi accordingly assumes that Musk’s experience of the platform also differs significantly from that of other users.
According to an estimate by SparkToro, 70 percent of accounts following Musk are bots or inactive. In contrast, an average Twitter account with 65 million to 120 million followers – which is the category Musk falls into – has a spam and inactive rate of only 41 percent.
The reason for Musk’s extraordinary bot and spam rate can be seen in his way of using Twitter. Musk clearly stands out from other celebrity accounts: not only does he tweet extraordinarily frequently, but he also interacts with other users more often than average. This, in turn, makes it attractive for all those who want to generate attention to follow Musk and comment on his tweets – and that includes, and especially includes, bots and other spam accounts.
Twitter, a bot paradise?
Musk justified the freezing of his offer – as mentioned in the introduction – with the exorbitant number of bots he suspects on Twitter. Specifically, Musk spoke of Twitter’s usage rules being very bot-friendly. At a technology conference in May, Musk further said that everyone who used Twitter knew that “the comment columns were full of spam, scam and numerous fake accounts.”
Against the backdrop of analyses of the significantly higher-than-average volume of spam surrounding Musk’s Twitter account, these admissions appear in a new light: Musk’s assessments may have grown out of a bias, as Musk’s Twitter image is likely to be clearly shaped by his personal experiences on the platform, which, however, differ significantly from those of most other users.
Twitter itself reports the percentage of spam, fake and bot accounts at less than five percent. Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal told Musk that Musk’s estimates could not be based on a reliable database, as this would also require internal data, which Musk does not have.